Reversal of roles shocks Rebels

MISSION VIEJO — The combination of defensive pressure and clutch outside shooting had meshed together perfectly for the Flintridge Prep girls' basketball for most of the season — particularly in its two playoff victories — entering Saturday night.

But in the CIF Southern Section Division IV-A semifinals at Trabuco Hills High in Mission Viejo, the Rebels had the tables turned on them.

Laguna Hills, the division's top seed, took a page out of Prep's book to force the fourth-seeded Rebels into 19 turnovers and drilled nine three-point attempts to hand Prep a 61-41 loss.

The outcome was a stark contrast to the way Prep (22-6), which entered the contest on a 14-game winning streak, had dominated most of its foes throughout the season, including its blowout victories over Riverside Notre Dame and Azusa to open the postseason.

“We're coming from a league where we're blowing out teams by 30 or 40 — we can play the worst games of our life and still win,” said Prep senior Courtney Robinson, who finished with a team-high 16 points. “We're not used to a team at our level or better than us, so when we come into a game [like this one], it's more of a shock, especially for the younger players when they need to step up and they're not used to that.”

It marks the second straight season Laguna Hills ended Prep's CIF run after the Hawks topped the Rebels, 57-42, in last year's Division IV-A championship game.

The Hawks jumped out to a 19-4 lead after a quarter and a 38-13 lead at the half, shooting a blistering 13 of 27 from the field in the first two quarters to Prep's five of 18.

“All their shots were falling,” said Prep sophomore Megan Musashi, who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. “We did everything we could to defend them, but they all fell.”

Prep didn't register its first points of the game against the swarming Laguna Hills defense until Musashi dropped in a layup with 3:40 remaining in the first period.

Two Alina Khodadian free throws sliced the Hawks' lead to 8-4 just minutes later, but Laguna Hills closed the period on a 11-0 run, punctuated by a running 25-footer from sophomore Lauren Engeln at the buzzer.

The Rebels were never really able to find their offensive rhythm against the Hawks defense until it was too late.

“They are aggressive,” said Flintridge Prep Coach Kenny Fisher, who led the Rebels to their seventh straight Prep League title this season. “The things we worked on doing, we just didn't do. We worked on reversing the ball and then attacking [their defense]. The things we normally do, we didn't do.”

Engeln, who grabbed nine rebounds, had her way against the Rebels in the first half, scoring 19 of her game-high 21 points.

While the Rebels expected Engeln, the reigning Division IV-A Player of the Year, to get her points, it was the contribution of other players like Nicki Nakhaie (14 points) that ultimately was too much to overcome. In the first half, five different Hawks connected from three-point range as the team went a combined seven of 11.

The Rebels, who got five points apiece from Deanna Watson and Kelsey Merchant, finally began to find their rhythm in the second half, using an 11-2 run to start the fourth quarter to pull closer at 53-35.

While the Rebels were never really able to threaten Laguna Hills in the second half, they did outscore the Hawks 28-23 after the break.

Robinson scored 12 of her points in the second half.

“I think we did a great job [this year] because no one gave us a shot to go this far,” Musashi said. “I think next year, if everyone keeps practicing, we'll be a great team.”

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